Movies have served as vehicles for musical success across the decades. In this week’s post, I’m reviewing some of the most memorable examples of how music artists achieved momentary greatness by tapping into the world of cinema.
Tip: Click on the song titles to listen to these one-hit wonders in all their glory!
- “To Sir With Love” by Lulu (1967, Billboard #1): The Sidney Poitier classic To Sir, With Love depicts the rocky but ultimately fruitful relationship between a Guyanese teacher and the unruly East Enders who make up his class. Lulu, a student who sings this touching ballad during a school dance, describes the impact of Poitier’s character on her transition from immature girl to refined woman. The song has stood the test of time, garnering covers from the Jackson, Al Green, and, most recently, the cast of Glee.
- “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone (1977, Billboard #1): This is a prime example of a song that far outperformed the film from which it emerged. Critics panned the film’s schmaltzy romantic subject matter, often citing its title song as its one redeeming quality. Pat Boone’s daughter, Debby, covered “You Light Up My Life” and skyrocketed to the top of the charts, setting a Billboard Hot 100 record for the song’s lengthy period of success. Audiences can accept the lyrics as a proclamation of romantic love, or follow Debby Boone’s interpretation and direct their love towards the glory of God. Whitney Houston also covered this song, soaring to the #9 spot in the Billboard Hot 100 25 years later.
- “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. (1984, Billboard #1): An immediate earworm that is as fun as it is catchy, it’s no wonder why this song was nominated for an Academy Award. Its goofy feel-good energy perfectly emulates the tone of its namesake, and its star-studded music video proves it was well-loved during its time. Unfortunately, Ray Parker Jr.’s 15 minutes of fame were dampened when he received a lawsuit from Huey Lewis, who previously turned down the opportunity to compose the Ghostbusters theme song himself.
- “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers (1993, Billboard #3): Good things come to those who wait. Scottish brothers Craig and Charlie Reid originally released this song in 1988, but did not see American success until it was featured in the Johnny Depp romantic comedy Benny & Joon 5 years later. Countless films have featured the song since, with Identity Thief, Bachelorette, and Pitch Perfect among them.
- Paper Planes” by M.I.A (2008, Billboard #4): A critical and commercial success, this hip hop anthem combines elements of African folk music, gun and cash register noises, and even a sample from The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” to make one poignant, one-of-a-kind, and unbelievably catchy song. The stoner comedy Pineapple Express features the song in its iconic trailer, fittingly accompanying a flash of violent and drug-fuelled scenes from the film.
What are your favorite songs from movies? Are they even one-hit wonders? Let me know in the comments!